MacAskill under fire over James Connolly memorial bid

Demonstrators on the James Connolly March in Edinburgh.
Demonstrators on the James Connolly March in Edinburgh.
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FORMER justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has been blasted for backing plans for a memorial to an IRA hero amid fears it will foster sectarianism.

The ex-SNP minister banned football fans from chanting about James Connolly when he spearheaded controversial anti-bigotry laws.

But now he has put his weight behind moves to erect a tribute to the revolutionary – who helped lead the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin which claimed the lives of more than 400 people – in his Edinburgh birthplace.

Critics have branded the calls “ridiculous posturing”.

Cameron Buchanan, Conservative Lothian MSP, said: “James Connolly wasn’t a hero in Scotland. He was a hero in Ireland.

“Kenny MacAskill has said he is against sectarianism. But Connolly is a divisive figure and I think this will only serve to foster sectarianism. In many people’s eyes, Connolly is certainly not a hero but a terrorist.

“This smacks to me more of a memorial to Kenny MacAskill than to James Connolly.”

Lawyer Paul Kavanagh, who has represented fans charged under the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, said: “It really beggars belief that the man who introduced laws that would have someone arrested for singing about James Connolly wants to see a statue built in his honour.

“The mere mention of the Easter Rising at a game is enough to see you arrested. It’ll be interesting to see if MacAskill will happily sing songs about the statue that could get him in trouble with the law.”

Connolly, who was born in the Cowgate to Irish parents, left school at the age of 11 and went on to become one of the leading Marxist theorists of his day. He emigrated to America in 1903 before returning to 
Ireland seven years later to foment a rebellion which led to the IRA fighting for – and winning – independence from their British rulers.

He was later shot by a British Army firing squad for his role in the rising.

Members of the city-based James Connolly Society are using crowdfunding to raise the cash for a bronze statue.

Mr MacAskill, who had already tabled a Holyrood motion calling for the radical socialist to be officially recognised, said: “More should be done to record where he was born and initially grew up.

“A statue should be considered. There has obviously been some reluctance but next year is the centenary of the Easter Rising. Connolly is a man of huge significance – born in the Capital – who believed in making the world better.”

Jim Slaven, of the James Connolly Society, has accused Mr MacAskill of “jumping on the bandwagon”, having expressed no prior interest. He said: “There is clearly a contradiction that you are not allowed to sing a song about Connolly but people want to claim credit for his political legacy.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com